“Can I ask you a question?” said the girl in the long dress.
I put my copy of Lolita down and looked up. We were the only two in the park as far as I could tell; a stray mutt sniffed eagerly at the base of an oak tree and a parliament of crows argued with each other on the green, but apart from that there wasn’t another soul in sight.
“And that’s the problem, right there!” she exclaimed, her eyes lighting up with triumph. “You look around and don’t see the souls. You just see a dog, or a bird, or trees. It makes me sick!”
I blinked. “Excuse me?” I asked, losing the initiative before I even knew I had it. It hadn’t escaped my attention that she’d somehow anticipated my thoughts.
“You’re all the same,” she explained, rolling her eyes in disgust. I noticed how green they were as they once again locked on my face. “Don’t you understand that even they have a soul?”
I still had the feeling that I was missing something, so I smiled. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Miss…”
“Exactly. None of you understand just what it is you’re doing to me.” Her voice had a pleading heart, and reminded me of the sea, so full of ebb and flow. “You think you’re so smart with your space travel and your internet TV, but when it comes down to it you’re all just … just …” She snatched desperately at the air for a suitable insult. “Men!” Now we were getting somewhere.
“Look, Miss, I don’t know who you think I am, but I assure you, we’ve never met before today.” I tried to sound confused but I knew that she’d pick up on the humour in my voice. I wasn’t wrong.
“You think it’s all a joke, don’t you?” her eyes flashed brighter and I was captivated. I sat there in silence as she continued with her rant. “I can assure you, buddy, this ain’t no joke to me. How would you like it if you got raped every day and every night?”
My humour vanished in an instant, the knight in shining armour taking his cue from the damsel in distress. “Raped? Do you need help?” I moved along the bench, Nabokov completely forgotten now.
“Don’t you see?” she asked, sitting down in the space I’d offered. “It’s probably too late for help. The damage is already done.” Without warning she burst into tears. Somewhere over the city thunder rolled angrily through the sky and I glanced up. The sky had been a perfect shade of azure when I first sat down but now it looked like a storm was brewing. I didn’t fancy a soaking.
“Is that all you care about?” The girl’s crying had stopped and I realised with a start how ignorant I’d been. I tried to apologise but she cut me off with a snarl. “I knew it. I knew you bastards wouldn’t change. I guess I’m just going to have to take matters into my own hands.”
She jumped to her feet as the first heavy drops of rain hit the floor. Tiny clouds of dust danced into the air with each little impact. I hadn’t noticed how flimsy the dress was before and for a moment my mind tried to imagine her without it. Not a good idea when you’re looking at a psychic psychopath.
“Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Strip me down until there’s nothing left and then act like nothing’s wrong.” Lightning flashed behind her and in that instant I saw her body silhouetted through the thin gauze of her clothing. I couldn’t help but admire her perfection and all at once her mood changed. So did the weather.
“Do you really think I’m perfect?” she asked, her face softening to childlike innocence.
I swallowed hard as the storm clouds skulked off to hide. “I guess so,” I replied, completely lost in the conversation now, “but I really think you need to see somebody, Miss.”
She sat down again, her body flowing onto the bench with the graceful certainty of water. “Who do you suggest? Nobody else seems to care.” I watched the last of the clouds drift away and wondered what had been in my coffee that morning. If she picked up the thought she didn’t comment.
“You could try the police,” I suggested after a while. “They’re trained to deal with this kind of thing.”
She stared at me as if I’d suddenly grown an extra head. “Are you serious? The police wouldn’t have a clue what to do.” The clouds started to roll in again.
“Miss, I really think you need to see someone. If you’ve been raped…” Bad choice of words, really.
“If? IF?” She pushed herself to her feet with a growl and the thunder broke right over our heads. Her hair shone golden in the muted light of the afternoon. “You think I’m making this up?” She paced as she raged, ignoring the rain that had started up again. “Don’t you think I’d be able to tell if it wasn’t real? It is my body we’re talking about here, you know?”
She stopped and turned to face me, her hands pushed firmly into her hips. The rain had plastered the dress to her body and I could see everything she had to offer. All I wanted to do was protect her, but by then it was too late.
“You’re right,” she agreed, “it is too late.” I heard a fresh peal of thunder across the city and the ground shook as somewhere in the near-distance something big fell over. I didn’t have the courage to look up.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, not really understanding why I felt the need.
“No you’re not,” she said, taking my chin in her hands, “but I forgive you anyway.” And then she walked away along the path, leaving me to sit in the rain alone.
It wasn’t until she was halfway out of the park that I realised something. “Hey,” I shouted, running to catch up with her. She stopped and looked over her shoulder.
“Who are you?” I asked as I reached her, my breath dragging in my throat.
She hardly blinked at the question but I saw that my ignorance had upset her; another building fell over in the city. “You really don’t recognise me, do you?”
I shrugged, barely able to breath in the wind surrounding us. I knew that there was something familiar about her but I simply couldn’t put my finger on it. The effort of staying in one place was beginning to hurt.
She watched me for a moment, and I saw the briefest flash of sympathy in her eyes. Then it died as she turned away. “How can you all have forgotten who I am?” she asked in wonder, barely affected by the fury of the elements around us. That was when I noticed the grass growing up around her ankles, caressing her as gently as a lover. I’d never seen grass push through tarmac so quickly before.
When I left the park that afternoon I couldn’t stop thinking of the girl in the long dress. I couldn’t stop feeling guilty for walking all over her for most of my life. I never saw her again, but I’ll never forget the look on her face as she ripped down another building; she had the expression of a mother scalding an errant child. Perhaps that was just her nature.
S. Naomi Scott (c) 2005